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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Age of Consent

Age of Consent is generating serious debate in India. The new anti-rape legislation passed earlier in March raised the age of consent for women to 18. Political conservatism in Indian political system prevented a proper debate on the subject. 

This is unsurprising. 

The Indian mindset hasn’t changed in over a century. More than a hundred years ago, when the British changed the law and raised the age of consent from 10 to 12, there was similar opposition. Among those who opposed the bill that Sir Andrew Scoble introduced in 1891 was Lokmanya Tilak. 

M.G.Ranade had - long before the Bill was moved - called upon the people of Pune to voluntarily pledge them to raise the minimum age at which they would get their children married. 

Tilak approved of Ranade's voluntary prescription but was vehemently against any state intervention. "We would not like that the government should have anything to do with regulating our social customs or ways of living, even supposing that the act of government will be a very beneficial and suitable measure," Tilak vigorously protested. 

Babasaheb Ambedkar has famously called Tilak “politically liberal and socially Tory.”

Scoble after having pondered over the merits of the arguments of both the sides, was convinced "that the balance of argument and authority is in favour of the Bill – even if it were not so, were I a Hindu, I would prefer to be wrong with Professor Bhandarkar, Mr. Justice Telang and Dewan Bahadur Raghunath Rao, than to be right with Pundit Sadadhur Turachuramani (Pandit Sasdhar Tarakachudamani) and Mr. Tilak." 

Despite countrywide protests, the Bill was enacted.

Incidentally, women weren’t consulted, even though the issue of consent became public when a woman – Rukhmabai – refused to recognize her marriage to her husband as she was married as a child and had lived separately for more than a decade. 

In 1888, Pandita Ramabai had argued that “marital laws favoured men whether under the ancient Hindu codes of Manusmitri, or under Christian British rule in India.”

Another pertinent legislation that was passed during that period was the Factories Act (originally passed in 1881). The term ‘child’ was defined for the first time as a person below the age of eight and was prohibited from employment. In 1891, this was amended and the minimum age was raised to nine, with maximum working hours for them reduced to seven. Women were to work for the same hours.
Image from: http://news.in.msn.com/national/anti-rape-bill-no-consensus-at-all-party-meet

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